A new book by Wildlife Conservation Society Senior Conservation Ecologist Dr. Eric W. Sanderson published by ABRAMS shows that the root of many of America's biggest problems – economic recessions, foreign wars and foreclosures – is an economic model built around oil, cars and suburbs.
In Terra Nova: The New World After Oil, Cars, and Suburbs (June 4, 2013; Abrams) Sanderson proposes solutions to these problems through a self-reinforcing cycle of tax reform, retrofitting towns and cities, walking, bicycles and streetcars, and economies of scale for renewable energy.
The author uses myriad disciplines to demonstrate how our current economic model evolved and a new economic model ("Terra Nova") may cohere in the future.
"There is a prevailing presumption in America that there is always more to be had (oil, land, air, water, soil, nature) over the next hill or on the frontier. This presumption has shaped our society and our economy from the very beginning. But it's a poor assumption," says Sanderson.
Presenting a detailed analysis of how cheap oil drove the expansion to cheap land in the suburbs during twentieth century, Sanderson demonstrates how the underlying conditions for the oil-cars-suburbs economy no longer exist. Oil is not cheap, nor is land, which has led to cyclical booms and busts in the overall economy, wars overseas, and terrorism at home. 21st century Americans are trapped in a "Siren song," Sanderson writes, that threatens our economy, security, society, and environment.
Hope lies in creating an economy that recognizes the costs it currently foists on nature and the future. "Gate duties are a way of taxing what we don't want – inefficient natural resource use and pollution – and removing taxes from what we do – economic growth and jobs," says Sanderson.
The author points out that such policies would encourage people to live in cities, which are more economically productive and environmentally efficient.
"That will, in turn, encourage people to walk and bike and to use electrified forms of transportation, like streetcars, rather than further locking us into fossil fuels," says Sanderson.
Critical to breaking that dependence is the investment in the least-developed source of energy America has—renewable power. To that end, Terra Nova offers a path to a 21st century American Dream that includes unleashing solar, wind and geothermal heat to drive the nation and improve our lives.
"There is nothing more important for wildlife and wild places than creating a new, more sustainable human footprint," says Sanderson.
Dr. Eric W. Sanderson is the author of the critically acclaimed Mannahatta which made New Yorkers think differently about where they live. Terra Nova will help Americans think differently about the way they live, and the impact of our oil-dependent economy on all aspects of our lives. He lives in New York City and is available for interviews.
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